Is The Boffo Tower A Dead Duck?

May 18, 2017

There were some strange goings on at the Grandview -Woodland Community Plan Open House at the WISE Hall last night. This was the second iteration of the duplex rezoning display presentation I wrote about on the weekend.

Several members of the public were advised by a City planner that Boffo had withdrawn from its Boffo-Kettle Tower project at Commercial & Venables/Adanac.  Andrew Pask the CoV planner directly in charge of the GW Community Plan seemed quite upset that his colleagues had “let the cat out of the bag” and claimed he knew nothing about it.

The Boffo-Kettle Tower is the massive for-profit tower project the neighbourhood has been actively opposing for almost five years, but which City Council — no surprise there — pushed through against the residents’ desires last summer (see here and here for the long battle fought).

The residents wanted a height of no more than 4 stories on the site, to match the neighbourhood and the current zoning along Commercial Drive, but the developers claimed they needed 12 stories to make sure they received an unhealthy level of profit. In the final months of discussion, City Planning suggested 9 stories but, at the Council meeting to approve the project, Boffo’s allies in Vision pushed through an amendment re-establishing the 12-stories. The opposition to the tower, using the developer’s own words from public meetings, suggested the final building would be 15 to 20 stories high. No, said the developer; the opposition is just lying.

Now, we presume, the developers tried a bait and switch, pushing for 15 to 20 stories once again, and City Planning pushed right back, well aware of the local fury this would create in Grandview in the run up to the 2018 municipal elections.

Maybe it is all rumour and conjecture; but it will certainly please thousands of residents if it turns out to be true.

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Lies My Developer Told Me

July 29, 2016

Throughout the long — 4-5 years — debate over the Boffo/Kettle tower, the developer and its lackeys claimed that they had frequently asked the City and the Province for money for their required expansion on Commercial and that the governments had said there was no money for mental health housing.

This same myth — for such it is — was peddled by the Kettle and its developer patrons even as late as this month in the run-up to the Council’s debate on the Grandview Community Plan.  Developer Daniel Boffo claimed: “the Kettle has been looking at options for government funding for over a decade with no progress and no results.”  I am being polite calling that a myth, of course, because that is simply one big lie.

In the last decade, the Kettle has applied for and received government funding for mental health housing units at Taylor Manor; they have built, with government money, their new facility on Burrard Street; and yet more government money has gone into a new facility for the Kettle at 1700 Kingsway.  In other words, the only Kettle project in the last decade that has not received government money is the expansion on Commercial — and the reason for that is quite obvious.

Once the Kettle had snuggled into Boffo’s queen-sized they didn’t need the City’s financial help and so never asked for it.

Of course the City was happy to go along with this charade for a number of reasons:

1) they are a developer-financed and directed-Council;

2) the City Council has zero priority for mental health (or homelessness or affordable housing) except to blame everyone else for the lack of assistance. Their priorities lie elsewhere. Getting Boffo to take over the government’s responsibility was a win in every direction for them;

3) the City has for years wanted a major tower at Venables & Commercial (see discussions with planners back in 2011)l it was in fact the City who engineered the sordid marriage between Boffo and the Kettle in the first place.

This is a precedent-setting disaster in so many ways:  the tower at Commercial & Venables will be just the first of many to blight our neighbourhood over the next decade; the City will now advise NGOs to go looking for private money to do government work (destroying in its wake the very Canadian idea that health care for all is a tax-payer responsibility); years and years of planning and thinking can be overthrown by hastily written ideological amendments thrown into the heap at past the last-minute (this wasn’t the first time we had seen that); more than 4,000 residents expressing their opinion can be ignored at will.

Developers’ profits and crony politics win again — and Vancouver should be the sadder for it.

 

 


Now We Wait and Worry Some More

July 28, 2016

This afternoon, Vancouver City Council approved the Grandview Woodland Community Plan by the not-surprising vote of 10-1 with only Councillor Adriane Carr voting against.

However, not content with the Planning Department’s four years of work, Councillor Reimer had produced a long list of substantive amendments to the Plan that she had conjured together over night. Those amendments — which included allowing the full 12 stories for the Boffo Tower — were approved by majority and so it was this amended Plan that was finally bulldozed through Council.

Councillor Geoff Meggs made it clear he was disappointed in the level of density Grandview would accept under the Plan, and he suggested that we were not carrying our weight. I am certain he will be looking for spot rezoning applications he can help push through against the word and spirit of the Plan, especially around the south end of Commercial.  I am sure most of his Vision brethren will be right behind him.

So,

  • Boffo doesn’t need any genuine public hearings for a rezoning now and I expect them to move swiftly, looking for permission to start digging that big hole every tower needs;
  • how quickly will we see applications along Hastings between Clark and Nanaimo?
  • how quickly will Broadway & Commercial change?  Will tower plans await the subway decision?
  • will the renoviction rate accelerate as rapidly as tenants’ advocates fear with new height allowances?
  • What effect will all this have on the debilitating business and residential rent increases currently afflicting the Drive?
  • Are the folks managing the Britannia Renewal project as upset as they should be that the City has decreed there will be housing on Britannia? And will this Community Plan override any Renewal Plan produced in the future?

An awful lot of intelligent people put an awful lot of effort into trying to help the Community understand what the Plan might meet for them and their quality of life. Outside the strictly-limited boundaries of the Planning process there was an intense debate about height, density, social justice. A great many people got very interested and then got very frustrated by the process that was deliberately closed down, first by the faux “Citizens’ Assembly” and then the year long wait while Planning decided how to spin the Assembly’s requests, refusing to talk with or meet with the neighbourhood during that time.

That being said, I am sadly aware that most people in Grandview will leave their residences tomorrow to head to work or school or recreation and not give a moment’s thought. They might read a report on the hearing in the Metro while they commute, and then turn to the sports pages. In the months ahead they will get cranky about all the building fences blocking sidewalks and smaller streets, but it will be a generalised annoyance only.  Only when the towers are completed at both ends of the Drive will they wonder what was there before.

How do we get to those masses of people and make then understand that they should have some say in the future of their own neighbourhood; and that by having a say they can and will change plans for the better?

The NO TOWER Coalition did a wonderful job with their weekly information tables in Grandview Park. They actually talked with thousands upon thousands of residents and visitors, more than three thousand of whom agreed to sign the petition against the Boffo Tower.  They also did a really good job with getting the signs out and about throughout the community.

But that wasn’t enough to engage the active interest of the mass of the middle class, Vision’s heartland. Vision’s constant polling (they are the only full time party in Vancouver) lets them know if they are in trouble in places, like Grandview, where they need to be strong to maintain a majority in the at-large Council chamber. In this case, they felt confident enough to tear down four years of work by their Planning Department with amendments apparently rushed together overnight. While this hardly compares with the pages and pages of hastily-scribbled last-moment amendments that formed part of the DTES Plan, it shows a constant need for Vision to intrude their ideology onto the technical work of the Planners.

I have written several times before about the assymetric power relationship in which a pick-up team of unpaid untrained and unprofessional(ly qualifed) volunteers goes head to head with a well-funded developer, a plethora of expensive PR agents, compliant mainstream media, and as often as not, the power of the incumbent Council regime. This can only be solved by structural changes to the system and it must include a return to the third-party appeals process that we lost a decade or so ago. I also believe that a ward system is key to most of the needed changes.

However, that is all for the next generation of activists to figure out.


928 Commercial

June 18, 2016

We have yet another development application on Commercial. This one involves the last house existing on the Drive between Venables and Broadway. The development doesn’t come as any surprise as the building was sold a year or so ago with flipping and/or redevelopment in mind.

924 Commercial_old

 

Not only is this the last house on the Drive, it is also one of the oldest (though much changed), having been first built in 1904. In what is today the front yard that faces onto Commercial, there used to be a small storefront, first used as a florist shop, but that disappeared soon after.  The house was purchased in the 1950s by Mrs. Ann Squires and, since that time, has generally been a cheap and cheerful rooming house, and rather run-down.

 

IMG_3336

 

According to the Development Application sign, it is to be replaced by a mixed use building, with retail on the ground floor and rental apartments above. Personally I have no issue with the development especially as it states quite clearly that it will meet the current zoning requirements. I have also been pushing for a long time for more low-rise rental to be built in Grandview, and this seems to fit the bill.

Unfortunately, there is an unwelcome sloppiness about the project so far: the illustration on the notice board shows four storeys, while the text states five storeys. It would be good to have that confusion cleared up. The notice board also says that more information is available from the City of Vancouver site, but this property is not listed in the City’s current development data.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that the developer/builder clearly expects to make a reasonable profit on this venture — and good for them. It gives the lie to other developers — Boffo Properties, for example — who claim they cannot make a financial go of low-rise rental properties; and it strengthens the position of many locals who feel that a low-rise alternative is possible for the ugly and intrusive Boffo Tower planned for Commercial & Venables.


Sometimes The Mayor Gets It Right

May 31, 2016

Regular readers will know that I am not a big fan of Mayor Gregor Robertson. However, once in a while, he — or rather his extensive “communications staff” — come up with something we can all agree with.

In a response in The Walrus, the Mayor takes on Kerry Gold’s piece of last week “The Highest Bidder“.  His main point is that there are a lot of reasons for Vancouver’s stratospheric housing market and we shouldn’t be blaming just the offshore Chinese investors. One would have to make up one’s own mind as to whether one believes his defence or not.

In a section on how we got to this state of affairs, Mayor Robertson makes a serious point:

“Planning decisions … that prioritized condo towers over townhomes and row houses have resulted in a lack of choice available to today’s buyers.”

I guess it is too much to hope that Boffo Properties will take that warning to heart and decide on pursuing a community-friendly alternative to their ghastly tower proposal for Commercial & Venables.


How Totalitarianism Works

May 30, 2016

In a well-argued piece on his blog yesterday, COPE’s Tim Louis writes about the public hearing so disastrously chaired by Clr. Raymond Louie about the Cresswell development on Commercial & 18th in Cedar Cottage. This was always going to be a divisive hearing about an important issue concerning development on arterial roads.  Activists from Cedar Cottage Area Neighbours and from across the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods network had been discussing the hearing for some time before the event.

At the hearing, most resident speakers spoke against the development, and Louie made decisions as chair that clearly breached common sense and the City’s Procedure By-Law. In the end, the three NPA Councillors along with Green Clr. Adrianne Carr stormed out of the hearing, bringing it to a close due to lack of quorum. Joseph Jones has reported some of the goings on. Oddly, this was the first hearing in living memory when Vision Vancouver had failed to show up with a majority (the Mayor and three others were missing). There was something fishy going on from the off.

Tim Louis’s point in his post today is the Vision regime’s handling of public participation in public hearings has deteriorated over the years, and this anti-democratic behaviour is now institutionalized in the rules of Procedure passed by that same Vision majority.

It is these same anti-community rules that will constrain the way Grandview residents will be able to formally challenge the Boffo Tower proposal and, even more importantly, the redrafted Grandview Community Plan later this year.

It is from a series of such seemingly innocuous (by themselves) administrative changes that totalitarianism is made to work. They beat you down not with the barrel of the gun but with the letter of the law.


Theft Of The Community’s Voice

May 29, 2016

One of the most noticeable successes of the campaign to halt the development of an intrusive and massive tower at Commercial & Venables has been the large number of lawn signs that are festooned across the neighbourhood — a clear indication of the community’s support.

lawn signs

Unfortunately, another continuing feature of the campaign has been the number of lawn signs that get stolen. Who knows who by? Though presumably it is someone who doesn’t want to see the campaign succeed.  Over the last year we have lost about a hundred signs;  the sign outside my own place has been stolen or damaged three times.

We had hoped that this juvenile behaviour — anti-democratic and anti-free speech at its heart — would pass like a phase in an adolescent’s growth.  But it seems the perpetrators are still determined to expose their childish sides. I received an email this morning from a correspondent just one block east of the Drive:

“for the 7th time, all the signs on our block were stolen last night sometime between 7pm and 11pm.  Perhaps it is a reflection of the Tower Proponents  way of operating –  repeated THEFT OF SIGNS, THEFT OF THE COMMUNITY’S VOICE, then finally THEFT OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD.”

It is hard to disagree with those sentiments.